In last interview, Assaf Ramon tells of desire to serve country

During interview before

The dangers of piloting an F-16 did not stop Assaf Ramon from pursuing his dream, even though his father, Ilan, Israel's first astronaut, was killed aboard the Columbia space shuttle when it exploded in 2003. "Fear or the idea of risking my life never influence me that much," Assaf told Channel 2, taped soon after he started the IAF pilot's course. Channel 2 aired the tape over the weekend. Assaf, 21, was killed on September 13 when his F-16 crashed in the Hebron Hills. In the tape, the smiling young pilot spoke of his love of flying and his deep desire to serve the nation. He said he rarely stopped to think, "Wow, this is dangerous." Instead, Assaf said, he thought of what it would be like to serve his country. As a pilot, he said, "You could save a life or stop a terrorist, you could feel as if you had done something significant." Since starting the course, the same one his father took, Assaf said he had gained "a deeper understanding of my father... more and more I want to connect to him." He said he wanted to know more about what his father had been like in the course, how he passed each stage and how he became valedictorian. Assaf added that it was fun to read letters his father had written back then. "I am three weeks into the class and I already feel that I am fulfilling a sort of dream that started when I was very young," Assaf said. He recalled how, when he was five, he had told his kindergarten teacher he wasn't sure whether he wanted to be a pilot or an artist. As he spoke, Channel 2 showed a picture he had drawn at the time of a silver plane in the sky. "Now, I have given up on being an artist and am going for being a pilot," said Assaf. Each stage the process of becoming a pilot had been stressful, he said. "Your heart pounds and you think that you have to pass, you have to succeed," said Assaf. The further along you got, "the more you want it. You don't know why this one passes and this one doesn't." In her first interview with the media since her son's death, Rona Ramon told Channel 2 over the weekend that when Assaf entered the air force, she wrote him a letter of support for the path he had chosen. In that letter, she said, "I released him as a mature person, to make his own decisions and to go his own way... I tried to rear my children to have an independent life, out of a sense of security in their own skills and their ability to know what was good and right." She said that of course, she wished Assaf had chosen to be an artist. "But I do not think we have control over this large thing called life." Rona added that she would not have stopped Assaf from fulfilling his dream. "I always tried to be there for him, when he needed water or advice," she said. "I was happy to free him to go along his path. He had wanted to do this from age five. You can see a picture that he drew in kindergarten." She spoke of how proud she had been that he had made history in June, by becoming a pilot's course valedictorian like his father. It was the first time the son of a valedictorian had done so. "I have no anger toward the air force. They allowed Assaf to fulfill his dream," Rona Ramon said. But she was angry with the photographers who, on that fateful Sunday afternoon, had stationed themselves outside her home before she knew that Assaf was dead. "It was a desecration of a most private and painful moment. In that sacred moment when my son left the world, I should not have learned about this tragedy from them," Ramon said. She added that in the aftermath of the second tragedy to befall her family, they were "returning to life. As long as we are here, we are here," she said. In looking toward the new year, she paused to recall that St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit was still a captive in Gaza, four years after he was kidnapped by Hamas as he patrolled the southern border. "I want to pray that this year we will see Gilad at home," she said. In looking at the larger picture, "we have to protect ourselves, but we should fight for peace. I turn and ask that we show more patience and responsibility for the other," Rona Ramon said.